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What is the Role of Nurses in Reducing Mental Health Stigma?


People can develop mental illness for a variety of reasons ranging from socioeconomic to psychological factors.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that 1 in 5 US adults experience a mental illness annually.

Unfortunately, individuals suffering from mental health conditions often shy away from seeking medical help due to stigma. Nurses are well-positioned to help break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Our comprehensive guide examines what mental health stigma is and the role of nurses in reducing it.

Understanding Mental Health Stigma


Mental health stigma includes all the negative beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors someone has toward someone with mental illness. Stigma can manifest as social exclusion, stereotypical behavior, or prejudice when handling someone with a mental health condition.

Negative perceptions of mental health influenced by past experiences, lack of knowledge, and societal norms can contribute to discrimination and stigma. Mental health stigma is a result of myths and misconceptions about mental illness. For example, some people believe that individuals suffering from this illness are dangerous, while others perceive them as weak. Some people believe that mental illness doesn’t require treatment and that people can simply will their way out of it.

There are different types of stigma surrounding mental health. Social stigma and self-stigma are the main ones.

Social or public stigma is when the public has certain misconceptions and stereotypes about people with mental health conditions. It’s related to discrimination. This stigma can exist within a work environment, religious setting, social environment, professional organization, medical healthcare facilities, or within families. Individuals suffering from social stigma tend to shy away from receiving psychological care and support. Some also believe recovery from their mental condition is impossible and would rather deal with it at home.

Self-stigma happens when you internalize negative thoughts about your mental condition. That could lead to feelings of low esteem, hopelessness, or shame. People with this internalized negativity can come from any race, religion, age group, or socioeconomic class. Additionally, this type of stigma contributes to delayed treatment, high cases of suicide, and worsening symptoms.

Although stigma may seem trivial, it can affect anyone negatively. Stigma can discourage someone from getting help as they don’t feel safe to seek support. It could also lead to discriminatory behavior such as bullying and harassment. Additionally, if your symptoms exacerbate, you may feel isolated or ashamed, further affecting your quality of life.

Stigma doesn’t only affect people with mental health conditions but also their friends and families who support them.

Other harmful effects of stigma include reduced opportunities for employment, lack of understanding by friends and family, harassment, and self-doubt. Stigmatized individuals are vulnerable and can develop negative consequences such as reduced self-esteem, hopelessness, and low confidence.

Understanding the impact of mental health stigma can help stakeholders develop strategies to eliminate it. One way to reduce stigma is by creating awareness of mental illness, which can help more people seek treatment and care. That’s where nurses come in and play a vital role in addressing mental health stigma.

Mental health nurses or psychiatric nurses must go through all the steps to becoming a nurse and get additional training in order to be suitably prepared to deal with those with mental health issues. These highly trained specialists focus on their patients’ emotional and psychological well-being. Additionally, they work with other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive holistic care. Marymount University offers accredited courses to become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, where students are taught the evidence-based practices and ethical understanding needed to provide this holistic care.

Where Does Mental Health Stigma Come From?


Stigma stems from various places, such as the media, which often portrays people with mental illnesses negatively. The media perpetuates a belief that people with mental illnesses are violent and can act irrationally. The media also often describes mental illnesses as conditions one cannot recover from, which further fuels stigma. Such media representations exacerbate self-stigma, contributing to delays in seeking help.

Some religions also shun people with mental health conditions and dissuade people from getting treatment for their conditions. Some workplaces view people with mental illness as unpredictable, which can prevent them from speaking up for fear of losing their jobs.

Stigma is also prevalent in people who formulate policing practices. There is a negative attitude toward people with mental illness due to a lack of awareness. That often contributes to a violation of their rights when they are arrested.

Medical institutions also play a part in allowing mental health stigma. Physicians and nurses have previously been discouraged from seeking mental healthcare services. Their fear of how their peers view them has also led to the stigma.

The Role of Nurses in Reducing Mental Health Stigma

Nurses play a critical role in supporting people dealing with mental disorders. Here are some ways nurses can help address mental health stigma.

Developing Self-awareness and Recognizing Any Personal Biases

Research shows that healthcare professionals hold some stigma against people with mental health conditions. Studies show notable stigma across the healthcare system and evidence of its effects, such as feeling rejected and worthless.

Stigmatization in healthcare can occur on an interpersonal level between the patient and the care provider. This could include negative attitudes, discriminatory behavior, and minimizing or undermining a patient’s symptoms. Sometimes this stigma is unintentional and can impede access to quality care.

Nurses have a role in developing self-awareness of these personal biases they may have toward mental health conditions. Dispelling negative stereotypes and wrong information allows nurses to provide prompt treatments and interventions, which leads to better outcomes.

Anti-stigma programs are effective when nurses support them and address any inequalities in the healthcare system.

Creating a Therapeutic Nurse-client Relationship

Nurses can reduce stigma by creating a therapeutic nurse-client relationship. Establishing this relationship is critical in mental health care as it allows patients to feel safe and open up about their conditions.

Creating a supportive, compassionate, and caring relationship with patients can help them address the negative beliefs and attitudes they may have about their mental health conditions. Nurses can work with patients to promote self-acceptance and help them understand their conditions by giving context around mental health disorders and advice on coping strategies to manage their symptoms.

Nurses also need to normalize mental health treatment and be honest about treatment plans. Explaining the treatment like regular healthcare treatment can reduce the fear and stigma associated with mental health therapy.

Educating Patients and Their Families About Mental Health


Raising awareness and educating patients and their families is essential to reducing the stigma around mental illness.

A lack of awareness and knowledge of available mental health services is one reason why most people shy away from seeking help. Nurses play a vital role in educating patients about their mental health. Being a mental health nurse involves understanding different mental health conditions, their symptoms, and treatment options. Explaining all these to patients in an easy-to-understand language is vital.

Additionally, mental health nursing involves taking time to assess patients’ mental health needs and address any concerns they may have. They encourage patients to express their feelings and help them handle frustration and anger. Educating their families on what signs and symptoms to look out for can help them know when to seek medical intervention for their loved ones and themselves.

Education also addresses common myths and misconceptions that could worsen mental health stigma. By dispelling these myths and discussing their mental health conditions with them, nurses raise awareness of mental health stigma and make it easier for patients to get treatment.

Patients need to learn how to cope with their condition. Nurses can teach their patients different coping strategies, such as cognitive behavioral techniques, practicing mindfulness, and performing deep breathing exercises. Implementing these practices can lessen stigma, especially among people who believe therapy and self-help are a waste of time.

Nurses can also encourage direct social contact with those who’ve suffered stigma firsthand. This can provide validation for individuals suffering from mental health conditions and fosters open communication between the patient and healthcare provider, which can help reduce stigma.

Promoting Open Communication and Discussion About Mental Health

Nurses can help reduce mental health stigma by encouraging open communication between those with mental health illnesses and the community. That can involve patients having frank discussions about mental health with their families, neighbors, and any surrounding support systems such as churches or community-based organizations.

Mental health nurses can motivate patients to freely discuss their feelings and thoughts concerning their mental health to reduce stigma. That can include building an effective communication strategy and providing support to overcome hurdles while dealing with mental illness.

Part of open communication also entails positive discussion, with a focus on acceptance. Nurses can help patients to be more honest by being non-judgmental. They can also discourage stigmatizing conversations around the workplace, making patients more comfortable discussing their mental health conditions.

Upholding Mental Health Patients’ Rights

Nurses undergo advocacy training in their profession, which involves using their position to speak up for, defend, and support their patients’ rights.

These health professionals understand the stigma and discrimination most mental health patients face. Their role entails challenging discriminatory practices and behaviors by intervening and providing facts about mental health conditions. Nurses can also advocate for changes at the national level to positively impact patient outcomes.

Another aspect of upholding mental health patients’ rights is ensuring easy access to support and services. Nurses collaborate with other medical professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, to provide the best care to people with mental health conditions.

Sometimes, nurses may need to speak up for patients’ rights. They may advocate for a patient’s right to be informed about the available treatment options. Furthermore, they might inform their patients that they are able to decline specific treatments if they wish to.

Nurses may also need to speak up for patients who are hesitant to advocate for their own rights. They help patients navigate the healthcare system to access mental health resources and get the support services required.

Promoting Mental Health as a Part of Overall Well-being


Mental health is crucial to your overall well-being and is closely related to your physical health. Mental health conditions such as anxiety can impact a person’s ability to function. For example, those suffering from anxiety may find it hard to form meaningful relationships with people they love. They might also suffer from sleep problems such as insomnia.

Nurses can help reduce stigma by promoting mental health as part of general well-being. They can help people transition avoid or deal with stigma and promote positive messages by educating them on how these two areas are connected. Incorporating mental health checks into the system review during routine hospital visits shows a positive attitude and can help break the stigma cycle.

Moreover, nurses can help patients implement coping strategies to support their mental health. Educating them on self-care and other lifestyle choices can reduce the stereotypes as patients will be informed and make decisions that will significantly affect health and overall wellness.

Get Involved in Local Advocacy Efforts to Support Mental Health Legislation

Nurses have a voice in how healthcare policies are formulated. They can participate in developing policies that uphold mental health patients’ rights and ensure there is improved access to mental health care at the macro level.

These professionals can champion social justice in mental healthcare by addressing healthcare delivery inequalities and confronting inappropriate rules in a mental healthcare system. That can include working with communities, governments, and other concerned stakeholders to create initiatives that promote access to mental health support and services.

Furthermore, nurses can discuss ways to improve mental health funding and access with those in leadership positions. Communicating with legislators on different strategies to educate the public on mental health can reduce societal stigma.

Advocacy in nursing enhances the quality of care, improves patients’ access to healthcare, and elevates patients’ self-esteem, which can help reduce mental health stigma.

Guaranteeing Anonymity

Nurses guaranteeing anonymity and patient confidentiality can help overcome stigma. Most people stay away from screening that includes their names. However, research by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that more people were willing to go for anonymous screenings than those that included their names.

Nurses have a duty of care toward patients, including protecting them from intrusion and being discreet about the information they share with others. All patient information should be kept out of sight and healthcare facilities should have private spaces to make patients feel comfortable and safe.

When patients know their identity will remain confidential, they have peace of mind and reduced anxiety when seeking medical intervention. That allows for better health outcomes.

Showing Compassion Towards People With Mental Health Illness


Individuals experiencing mental illness are looking for empathy without judgment. Nurses show compassion toward people with mental illnesses through actions, thoughts, and words. For example, nurses can show compassion by making eye contact with patients or by being kind in their speech.

Being compassionate also means taking time to know and better understand a patient’s needs, using positive body language to embed confidence, minding your language when explaining procedures and tests, and practicing empathy to understand what patients are going through. Compassionate and empathetic care has been shown to lead to considerable patient satisfaction.

Compassionate nursing allows patients to be more comfortable, creates better patient-nurse relationships, and improves patient outcomes. Patients are more confident seeking treatment for their mental condition when they are comfortable and experience compassionate care.

Future of Mental Health Stigma

Although a lot has been done to reduce mental health stigma, there’s still work to be done. Helping people understand that mental illnesses require treatment and are not personal weaknesses is essential. Doing that will lessen the stigma. There’s also a need for stakeholders in healthcare, communities, and policymakers to educate and raise awareness to reduce stigma.

Providing integrated care with combined mental healthcare and primary care can also lower the stigma around mental health conditions. That entails treating both a patient’s physical and mental health issues, as they are often interlinked. Incorporating this type of care can lower the stigma around mental illness and improve patient outcomes.

Mental health stigma can prevent someone suffering from a mental health issue from seeking medical help. Unfortunately, this will only worsen their condition and could impact their overall well-being. Nurses can ensure early intervention by openly discussing mental health, advocating for their patients’ rights, educating patients and their families on the need to seek treatment, and getting involved in mental health policy formulation.

These strategies can help reduce the stigma toward people with mental health issues. The result is a more supportive and inclusive society for all.